Panoche Valley Solar LLC filed a May 4 brief with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California opposing an April 15 lawsuit by project opponents and accompanying plaintiff request for a preliminary injunction halting any site work on the project while the legal case is fought out.
The lead plaintiff in the case is Defenders of Wildlife.
“Plaintiffs want to kill a solar project in Panoche Valley (Project) that will provide clean, renewable energy to 68,000 homes and, thereby, avoid more than 150,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually,” said the May 4 brief. “The Project advances federal and California policies to develop renewable energy and reduce emissions that contribute to climate change.
“The Project’s environmental impacts, including those to protected species, were extensively reviewed at the federal, state, and local levels over many years. At the federal level, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) (responsible for administering the federal Endangered Species Act) reviewed and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) (responsible for administering certain parts of the federal Clean Water Act) approved the Project subject to stringent conditions prescribed by the FWS to protect the species.
“At the state level, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) (responsible for administering the California Endangered Species Act) and the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board (responsible for water quality) reviewed and approved the Project.
“At the local level, San Benito County (responsible for local land use) reviewed and approved the Project. These agencies have imposed literally hundreds of conditions on the Project, designed to reduce environmental impacts and conserve species.”
The company said that “responsible conservation organizations,” such as The Conservation Fund, and leading scientists in Central Valley grassland species support the project because they view its more than 25,000 acres of conservation lands as critical to species conservation and recovery.
Panoche Valley Solar said it agrees and joins in the federal defendants’ position that plaintiffs are not likely to succeed on the merits, thus no injunction is justified.
Since it was first proposed in 2009, the project has been reduced in scale from 1,000 MW to the current 247 MW. Over that time, the conservation lands preserved to mitigate impacts to species have increased from 4,316 acres to 25,618 acres, the company noted.
The county’s Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for a 399 MW version of the project was upheld by the San Benito Superior Court in 2010 and the California Court of Appeals in 2013. In 2015, plaintiffs brought another lawsuit against the present version of the project. The Superior Court, again, rejected that challenge. “Plaintiffs now seek to delay the Project by attacking its federal review and approvals,” said the company.
The company added: “Plaintiffs have failed to show that the build-out of the Project over the next 18 months, let alone the limited activities over the next six to nine months (the time likely needed to complete this case before this Court), will irreparably harm the protected species they identify.”
The case is due for a May 20 court hearing.